Update: This transcript has been updated to reflect the current AP Stylebook guidelines. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD. 

[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman. 

Grant Ferrell, News Intern: And I’m your co-host, Grant Ferrell. 

As I promised last week, we have the second installment of our series about the Disability Rights  Nebraska’s recently published report, “Second Class During the Pandemic.” But first, we are  going to enjoy some relatively breaking news. 

To kick us off, we have an update for you regarding the butterfly effect overturning Roe v. Wade  has had. 

On July 8, President Biden signed an Executive Order which aims to protect access to  reproductive health care services. This Executive Order’s goal is to safeguard access to  reproductive health care services, coordinating the implementation of Federal efforts to protect  access to reproductive health care, and protect the privacy of patients while ensuring access to  accurate information. If you wish to read more you can do so at whitehouse.gov or by clicking  the link in the transcript for today’s show. 

On July 15, the House voted to pass H.R. 3755 and H.R. 8297. If you aren’t familiar with these  bills, links to the official documents can be found in today’s transcript as well. But to summarize,  H.R. 3755 would protect an individual’s right to continue or end a pregnancy and protect a health  care provider’s ability to provide that service. This builds on President Biden’s plans to codify  abortion rights into federal law. Meanwhile, H.R. 8297 contributes to these protections by  guaranteeing an individual’s rights to travel across state lines for the purpose of obtaining  reproductive health care services. Now, both bills will be put in front of the Senate. 

In the meantime, Nebraskan officials are still considering stricter abortion bans. Earlier this year,  Governor Pete Ricketts announced plans to call for a special session to broach the matter. While  Governor Ricketts has yet to give any indication on whether he plans to follow through,  advocates and opponents continue to debate how to proceed. That’s all we know for now. We  will keep you updated once the Senate has voted. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Next up, the Lincoln Police Department is calling for  witnesses on an ongoing kidnapping and assault case. Here is LPD to tell us more.

Captain Todd Kocian, of the Lincoln Police Department: Good afternoon, everyone. 

Thank you for coming on such short notice. We’re here today to provide some information on  the arrests of two individuals following a kidnapping and assault investigation. 

With us today are Chief Ewins, Assistant Chief Stille, Assistant Chief Morrow, Assistant Chief  Jackson, and I’m Captain Kocian. Chief Ewins will be addressing the group, followed by a brief  question and answer session. We will make an announcement when the question and answer  session has ended. 

Again, thank you all for coming, and at this point, I’ll turn it over to Chief Ewins. 

Chief Teresa Ewins, of the Lincoln Police Department: Hello everybody. Thanks for coming  on such short notice. 

The purpose of this press conference is to provide an overview regarding arrests of suspects this  afternoon in the kidnapping, assault, sexual assault case that occurred in the area of 56 and I-80  on July 28 on Thursday evening. 

On Friday, the 29, at approximately 8:30 in the morning, Lincoln Police Department was notified  by Gage County Sheriff’s Department deputies that a 26-year-old man was located in their  jurisdiction, bound and walking along a road with obvious injuries. When contacted, the victim  indicated that he was kidnapped and beaten at a location in Lincoln prior to being transported to  an unknown location in Gage county. 

During the investigation, it was discovered that a second victim was kidnapped, assaulted, and  sexually assaulted. The investigation is ongoing and at this time we will not be commenting  regarding the second victim. 

Police investigators followed up throughout the day and, at approximately 3:00 p.m. on Friday,  officers located Austin Widhalm, 26 years old, at his residence here in Lincoln and took him into  custody without an incident. He was lodged for kidnapping, first-degree assault, first-degree  sexual assault, use of a weapon to commit a felony, and two counts of false imprisonment. 

The second suspect in this case – at approximately 2:00 p.m. today, 30-year-old Tanner  Danielson, also a Lincoln resident – was located and arrested by task force personnel in Rapid  City, South Dakota without incident. Danielson was lodged for the charges of first-degree  assault, first-degree sexual assault, use of a weapon to commit a felony, and false imprisonment. 

Please respect the victims and their family’s privacy during this time of healing. While arrests  have been made, this investigation is ongoing and we encourage anyone with information to call  (402) 441 – 6000 or make an anonymous report to crime stoppers at (402) 475 – 3600. 

I wanna thank the quick response by our investigators and our ongoing collaboration with our  area partners to include Gage County Sheriff’s office and the US Marshall service. With that, I’ll  take questions. And, again, I will tell you that this is… it’s going to be very limited in what we could say, cuz this is unfolding as you know, that there is an arrest this afternoon. So, we’re  gathering more and more information.

Andrew Wegley, Breaking News Reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star: Is there any  immediate danger to anybody else in the public? 

Chief Teresa Ewins, of the Lincoln Police Department: You know, um, yeah, let me just be  clear. One of the reasons why we wanted to come before you is to let the public know that this…  there was a relationship between all these people. We don’t know to what degree, but it is not  random. 

And, so, we want everyone to understand that this is not random, um, and we feel very safe that  the public is in good hands right now. 

Andrew Wegley, Breaking News Reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star: Do you know the  extent of the injuries that were received? 

Assistant Chief Jason Stille, of the Lincoln Police Department: Again, my name is Jason Stille. I’m an Assistant Chief in charge of investigations. 

Right now, there were obvious injuries when the male subject was picked up in Gage county that consists of burns to the face, the arms, the legs, and then also several abrasions. 

So, he was treated at a hospital there in the area and we’ll know a little bit more about the status of his injuries, I guess, as the investigation unfolds. 

Chris Lofgren, Morning Traffic Reporter for KLIN-AM: And was that second victim injured in any other way besides sexual assault? 

Assistant Chief Jason Stille, of the Lincoln Police Department: Well, I would say that’s a  significant injury. Um, and so yes, I think, you know, that’s, that’s pretty significant in my mind,

Chief Teresa Ewins, of the Lincoln Police Department: As I said earlier, this is, this is a case  that’s unfolding. We are looking for witnesses. Um, this is something that takes time and all of  you have… we’ve had this conversation. It takes time to do these investigations. It takes time to  put together all the information and understand what exactly happened. And, so, we ask for  people’s patients because this is actually, um, gonna take, take some time. 

It’s gonna take a lot of investigators to put everything together and understand it. So, we’re  gonna be looking for video. We’re gonna be looking for all those things that we need to actually  put a case together. And, so, we really want everyone to understand that, um, we don’t wanna  say anything that’s gonna jeopardize, like the assistant chief said, their memory or put anything  into anyone’s head about this. 

We need to find the facts. It’s that simple.

Chris Lofgren, Morning Traffic Reporter for KLIN-AM: Were these guys on your radar at  all for any of this… at all?

Chief Teresa Ewins, of the Lincoln Police Department: In general? As happening previously?  Not that I’m aware. 

Anything else? 

All right. Thank you, guys, for your time. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: As mentioned, LPD is currently searching for witnesses to  the crime. You can call (402) 441-6000 or make an anonymous tip to lincolncrimestoppers.com.

Grant Ferrell, News Intern: In our July 2 episode, we shared that the Nebraska Department of  Health and Human Services and Douglas County Health Department had identified an individual  in the state who had tested positive for Monkeypox. Since then, the CDC has confirmed nine  other cases of Monkeypox in Nebraska. 

Our reporters have noticed a wealth of misinformation being spread on social media claiming  that Monkeypox can only be contracted and transmitted by certain demographic groups. KZUM  News would like to clarify that anyone can contract or transmit the virus. 

We will link to the CDC’s page on Monkeypox in our transcript. But, for those who don’t have  time to read right now, we would like to remind you that the Monkeypox virus is genetically  similar to the Smallpox virus. It is transmitted through any prolonged physical contact with  either infected individuals or infected surfaces. It can also pass through respiratory droplets.  Those who have contracted Monkeypox can spread the virus to others from the time symptoms  start until the rash has fully healed, a time period that usually spans two to four weeks. 

Please keep in mind that – true to its name – Monkeypox is characterized by a rash that can look  like pimples or blisters that appear all over the body. Other symptoms include fever, headache,  muscle ache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. If you are displaying symptoms, the  Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department encourages you to quarantine. If you have any  questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. 

Lastly, remember to practice good hand hygiene and use personal protective equipment when  caring for ailing individuals. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, lastly, Lincoln’s Transportation and Utilities  Department announced changes to StarTran that would go into effect on July 29. We’re joining  them to learn more about these changes. 

Liz Elliot, Director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities: Good morning. Thank you all for  joining us today. I’m Liz Elliot, director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities.

StarTran transit system is an essential service that offers the Lincoln community vital  transportation year-round. The Lincoln bus system is an environmentally friendly transportation  option that offers about 10,000 rides every day as community members get to and from work,  doctor appointments, school, the grocery store, and much more. And, more than that, the people  who dedicate their careers to Lincoln’s transit systems are the heart of this organization. They  work hard to provide great customer service, safe and timely bus rides for passengers, and a  pleasant atmosphere for all. 

Since the pandemic began in 2020, StarTran is one of many city transit systems that have been  hit by the hiring shortage currently going on across the nation. Despite our best efforts to attract  additional applicants the last two years, StarTran has had to make the tough decision to modify  its hours of service due to a lack of bus operators. 

Beginning Thursday, August 18, StarTran’s fixed route evening service, van link on demand  service, and paratransit service will end at 7:00 p.m., three hours earlier than what is currently  being offered. 

This was not an easy decision because we know this change will affect a number of passengers  across the community. We appreciate the community’s patience and understanding. 

The changes will impact about 2% of StarTrans daily rides. Two bus routes will not be affected  by these modifications: routes 24 and 25 near the University of Nebraska Lincoln campus, along  with limited paratransit service within ¾ of a mile of these routes will continue to operate until  9:00 p.m. Notices and updated schedules will be placed on the buses, on our website, and on  social media. 

StarTrans bus operators have served the public through these challenging times without fail. I am  so proud of their dedication to this community. These service modifications will give StarTran  bus operators a little relief as we continue to maintain a successful and safe transit program. 

As for our transit system, StarTran is taking additional steps to address the bus operator shortage.  I’m excited to announce plans for a three-month hiring campaign that will kick off mid September and extend through mid-November. We are thinking big and finding new, innovative  ways to attract great candidates and reach as many people as we can. The StarTran hiring  campaign will have an online presence and market to potential applicants on Facebook,  Instagram, LinkedIn. Radio, billboards, and an interactive website will also offer applicants an  exciting and visual way to learn about transit opportunities and give potential teammates an easy  roadmap to join our team. We encourage anyone interested to consider this rewarding career. 

If you are interested but you’ve never driven a commercial vehicle before, we still encourage you  to apply. Our team will train you. We’ll let you practice on our bus simulator and we will pay for  your commercial driver’s license test and license. 

A new interactive career-focused website will be developed for interested job seekers to connect  to. Potential applicants will be able to learn more about the benefits of public service, why Lincoln’s current bus operators enjoy what they do, and highlight our health, retirement, and  other great benefits that working for the city of Lincoln brings. 

In addition to this effort, our team is planning a StarTran hiring day in October. This event is the  first of its kind here at the city of Lincoln. Our team is excited to offer this all-inclusive hiring  event where interested applicants will be able to visit StarTran, meet potential coworkers, apply,  and interview all in just an hour or two. 

This type of convenient and fast hiring is sometimes unheard of in government. We are here to  change that perception and offer this unique opportunity. But if you’re eager to apply, please  don’t wait. We are actively hiring right now. We have 23 bus operator positions ready to be  filled immediately. 

Please go to lincoln.ne.gov/transitcareer to apply. And with that, we can open it up to questions.

Unidentified Journalist: How many drivers do you have? 

Liz Elliot, Director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities: We currently have 85, um,  operators and we’re 23 down. 

Unidentified Journalist: Is your, what are your long-term plans? Do you want to reinstitute  those hours? 

Liz Elliot, Director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities: Our goal is to not only reinstitute  the hours, but our vision is to ultimately enhance and increase the service here in the community.

We’re hoping that by our January bid, which is mid-January, that we will be able to start  increasing service again.

All right. Thank you all for joining us today and let us know if you have any other questions.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: There’s nothing worse than getting to your destination and  realizing you have no way to get home. Especially when Lincoln is dealing with extreme  weather.

We’re going to take a quick commercial break. After that, we have the second installment of our  investigative report on the Disability Rights Nebraska’s recently released study “Second Class  During the Pandemic.” Stick around to learn more. 

[“KZUM News” transition music, an original piece composed by Jack Rodenburg, fades in and then out. KZUM Radio’s usual underwriting and public services announcements air at scheduled times throughout the hour.]

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Welcome back to KZUM News.

During our July 23 episode, we aired part one of our report on the Disability Rights Nebraska’s  recently released study “Second Class During the Pandemic.” We sat down with Amy Miller of  the Disability Rights Nebraska to learn about the report itself and then we met with John Wyvill  and Kelsey Cruz of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to learn about Covid-19’s  impacts on their clients. 

Today we are airing part two in the series. 

Now, if you missed part one, I’m going to give you a quick recap. 

In November 2020, the Disability Rights Nebraska documented Nebraska’s pre-pandemic  planning and the ways in which it overlooked caring for individuals with disabilities in a report  titled “Second Class Citizen During the Pandemic.” The December 2021 report, emphasized the ways folks with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 due to both heightened susceptibility and a lack of  accessible resources. This report also laid out potential legislative steps could address the gaps in  care for disabled folks. But we’ll talk to Brad Meurrens about that later. 

For now, we’re meeting with Executive Director, Carlos Servan, of the Commission for the  Blind and Visually Impaired. He’s going to tell us more about the ways Covid-19 impacted his  client base. 

Can you clarify for listeners who may not be familiar with the Commission for the Blind and  Visually Impaired, what it is that you do as an organization, who you serve, and what your goals  are? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Yes. The Nebraska commission for the blind and visually impairs is the sister agency  of Voc Rehab, the vocational rehabilitation agency in Nebraska. 

They provide services to all disabilities and we serve the blind. They, they don’t. We serve blind  people who are… blind and also have other disabilities. The main services is vocational  rehabilitation, meaning folks who want to reenter employment, gain employment, or retain  employment. Many times, blind people don’t have the skills or we start training them, providing  the equipment, and eventually paying for training if they want to go to college and help them  find employment. 

The second part of our services is independent living. Many blind people become blind in their  senior years because of age related conditions. So, we provide independent living so they can  stay at home rather than spending their last years in a nursing home. 

We teach them to take care of things at home, administer their own medication, cook, clean, use  the computer, stay in contact with their loved ones. In fact, for this particular population, we will  have a statewide convention or conference by the end of August; I think it’s always the 31 or  September 1. So that, that’s what we do for, for blind people.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Can you tell us a little bit about what the Commission for  the Blind and Visually Impaired experienced during Covid-19? Did you have access to the  resources that those visually paired people had access to? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Actually, we had some obstacles and problems in getting access. As blind people, we  don’t drive. So, in the beginning, when they were telling us “go to this and this place for a test,”  many of those places were not accessible to buses, number one. Number two, you were not  supposed to be on public transportation if you had a risk to be already contagious. So, yeah,  when we called, they didn’t know how to deal with that. 

It was frustrating for us blind people. And, also, for the Lincoln-Lancaster Health Department.  We talked to the state health and human services; they also didn’t know how to deal with that. 

It was frustrating. It was difficult. 

Like people called the agency to find out what we could do. Technically speaking, we couldn’t  help just any blind person, except if they were clients of the agency, if they were getting services  from us then we incorporated that as part of achieving their goals, but it was very difficult.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you mentioned that the Lancaster County was also  very frustrated. Did you communicate with them to discuss future accommodations and were  those accommodations implemented as time went on? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Yes, we did. 

And when I say frustrated it was because they were frustrated, but they wanted to work with us  and, actually, they themselves told blind people, “we will go, we will pick you up and take you  to get your test.” So, they, they did that. They did that. 

They… what I heard from other consumers is that the Lincoln-Lancaster Health Department  went over what they were supposed to do, meaning their staff members, early in the mornings,  sometimes after 5:00 PM, sometimes on the weekend. 

So, they, they did a great job. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And we’re looking at, potentially, another wave that is  coming up. Are there any more accommodations that you would like to see with this next wave  potentially? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Well, now the tests are almost everywhere. When you want to administer it yourself,  it, it’s hard. It’s… they don’t have yet non-visual instructions.

The consumers are working on advocating for themselves. So, some pharmacists do provide  instructions. There is a, I think, secure code and some folks have well, a iPhones or smartphones  that have applications and will read the secure code so they can read instructions that way. And  that’s thanks to consumers. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And we’ve talked a lot about accessibility to physical  locations and Covid-19 tests. What about information regarding Covid-19? You mentioned those  iPhones are… are those applications set up to read that information out loud? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Yes. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Do websites need to be formatted a specific way for the  apps to recognize them?

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Yeah, we run into that too with the state and, and the city. The city has more access and I think  it’s because they have less employees, less people, they are smaller. So, it’s easier to make those  decisions and to deal with the software. 

The state has different contrasts; they’re big umbrellas. So, when you speak to the CIO, no…  yeah, the chief information officer, they are subcontracting with somebody else. And, likewise,  those subcontractors are subcontracting with a third party and it takes a long time to fix the  problem. And sometimes even a long time to find the problem. And if you don’t find the  problem, it’s hard to find the solution.

But to answer your question, is that we, the Commission for the Blind, now are contracting with  a blind computer scientist who is helping the state of Nebraska to make the webpage accessible.  In fact, I think it’s called ServeNebraska, their webpage, and they are testing in these days. But  we are working with them. 

But it was, it was very frustrating. I think the concern now, if we get a new Covid-19 will be how  accessible the test will be. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And… I mean. Clearly this has been a subject for many  years, that there needed to be improvements in terms of accessibility for technology. What is  your primary suggestion for people who are in the process of developing technology and within  keeping accessibility in mind? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Yeah. When they start developing the system, they need to keep that in mind from the beginning,  rather than thinking about blind people or people with disabilities in general at the end.

Because it’s almost impossible to fix that at the end and to involve blind people in doing those,  those webpage development or applications. There are plenty of blind people who can help in  doing those things. And I keep telling people “call so and so, you know, be in touch with this  person” and they say, “yeah, yeah, we will.” 

But when, we are not there yet, when they contact those folks, it’s almost too late because I think  they need to do it from the beginning. It’s cheaper. It’s easier. It’s, it’s more accessible. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: In terms of accessibility, we also are looking at  educational resources for people to better understand blind individuals’ experiences. Can you  talk about some of those resources and how individuals can educate themselves so that they can  help understand accessibility better? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Yes. 

I can give you three names. Of course, our webpage is NCBVI.nebraska.gov. Also, the National  Federation of the Blind has a lot of resources is NFB.org. Then the American Council of the  Blind, also ACP.org. 

And the last one that comes to mind is the American Foundation for the Blind is AFB.org. All  the information is accessible to their fingertips. They don’t have to go anywhere. They can just  look at those on their desks. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Is there anything that we have not asked that you feel is  important to the subject and would like to comment on or expand upon? 

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Yeah.

Just in general, I can say that around 70% of blind people are either unemployed or  underemployed. Most of the time, it’s because of misconception of the blind. It’s not a lack of  capability. So, we thank you for letting us be on your station so the public can learn more about  us. We are normal people. We use different techniques to accomplish the same goals. We are  also people, meaning blind folks many times have also misconception about the blind. They limit  themselves. And many times, our teachers limit us, our own family limit us. 

So, to get into those webpages, resources, and to learn more about what can be done. 

And we need to invest in blind people, a great deal, and we do it because we know that blind  folks can compete in terms of equality can do almost any kind of job. There is still some  exceptions, but most jobs we can do it just efficiently, like our sighted partners. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Excellent. Thank you so much.

Carlos Servan, Executive Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually  Impaired: Sure. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And we’re going to take a quick break but don’t leave just  yet. We’re following up with Brad Meurrens of the Disability Rights Nebraska to learn more  about the report and the legislative action that resulted. 

[“KZUM News” transition music, an original piece composed by Jack Rodenburg, fades in and then out. KZUM Radio’s usual underwriting and public services announcements air at scheduled times throughout the hour.]

Amantha Dickman, News Director: I am glad you stuck around. Before the break, we met with  Carlos Servan the executive director for the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He  was generous enough to give us insight as to how Covid-19 impacted his client base. 

But, now, we’re going to meet with Brad Meurrens, the public policy director for Disability  Rights Nebraska. He’s going to tell us more about the legislative changes the organization has  been advocating for and what progress they have made over the last six months. 

Now we’re focusing on that “Second Class during the Pandemic” report. Can you kind of give us  an overview of what this report was about and the findings? 

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: Sure. 

So, when the Covid-19 pandemic came upon us, the literature, you know, indicated that persons  with disabilities, for a variety of different reasons, are more susceptible and vulnerable to the  virus. They’re more susceptible to catching the virus. And they’re also at a higher risk of major  complications, hospitalization, and fatality due to their viral infection in Covid-19. 

One of the ways in which the persons with disabilities are more susceptible and more vulnerable  to catching the virus was that those folks that live in facilities and congregate settings – like  assisting facilities, group homes, nursing homes – live amongst other people. And we know that,  you know, that carries a risk. 

Also, they’re… they often have multiple conditions, preexisting conditions, if you will. That also  puts them at a greater risk of contracting and having complications with the virus. Plus, also, in  those settings, staff come in and out and are going in and out of rooms, for example or may see  multiple individuals for different services throughout the day. 

And, at the end of the day, end of their shift, they’ll go home, rope into the community. And then  their shift starts the next day. They’ll come back into the facility or the group home or the  congregate living facility. And, so, there’s always a constant risk of exposure. Internally and  externally. So, we were really concerned, as an organization, of how, you know, Nebraskans  with disabilities in general and particularly those individuals with disabilities who live in those  type of settings were faring during the pandemic, you know. What, what’s the impact? What’s the scope? How, you know, what size are we talking about? You know, what, what, where are  we at? How… what’s the infection rate, those sort of things. 

And, you know, in our initial research, we noted that there were several initial outbreaks. Blair,  Nebraska, I think was the first one that we were aware of, here in Nebraska, where they had  significant outbreaks and viral infections in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and they had  deaths. 

So, we were really concerned about those folks that were living in those situations, given their  unique vulnerabilities. And, so, we were concerned initially about the test Nebraska testing  program. And we had produced a report around that particular program and its impact and  accessibility for persons with disabilities.What we found was that the testing in Test Nebraska  was not as accessible and left a lot of person’s disabilities out. For example, persons who… the  Test Nebraska registration had to be done on the internet. Well, if you didn’t have internet, you  were gonna have difficulty registering for the program. 

And as we know, a lot of persons with disabilities, even in Nebraska, live at or below the poverty  line. So, we’re not talking to a lot of folks, especially the ones that we’re living in those  congregate settings, are gonna be likely to have the, you know, spare cash to have a vehicle or to  be able to afford to get to the site, if they could even register. If they, if they could afford the  internet, do they… are… can they read the screen? Is it, is that, is the screen accessible? You know, may… they may not have transportation: is there accessible transportation? So, and, you  know, so we’re concerned that the, even the testing site themselves had steps. So, there were  some, some of there was, there were some problems that we identified in the testing program  itself.

And then we produced another report talking about the, when the vaccines became online or, you  know, available. We had looked at the vaccine program as well. And what we found in the back,  in that, in, in that later program, is that the vaccine program was not, was also equally not as  accessible. 

The vaccine prioritization changed from a disease-centric to an age-based-criteria. So, a person  with a disability, despite being more vulnerable to complications and contraction of COVID their  50-year-old, 60-year-old grandma would have, would be able to get the vaccine months before  an individual who has down syndrome or would have another type of disability that puts him at  higher risk. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then once the report was released, Sharon mentioned  that you took steps to get the bill in front of the legislature and see what outcomes could be  produced. Can you tell us a little bit about that process and what it accomplished in those early  months? 

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: Sure, I’d be happy  to. And that’s, that’s kind of where I really come into the picture.

You know, I talked to Amy and Sharon and our chief executive officer and our legal director and  our staff. And we talked to other folks and we’re trying to get a picture of, you know, what can  we do systematically around the pandemic, and pandemics, or emergencies in general because  those sort of things affect persons disabilities as well as anybody else. 

Because, remember, in Nebraska, something around 11% to 12% of persons here in Nebraska  identify had having a disability and there are persons with disabilities in every single county in  Nebraska. And, so, what happens to everybody happens to everybody, whether they’re have  disability or not.

So, one of the things that we were looking through the statutes around the emergency  management agency and emergency management here in Nebraska, because that issue  emergency management disaster planning has really gained a lot of national interest and inertia  lately in the past few years for example, our agency has hosted disability preparedness workshop  a couple of years ago with our National Disability Rights Network and the Fire Marshals and  EMTs. And first responders came. We talked about the importance of disability and  preparedness and planning. And, so, we were kind of… we’ve also been participating in the  Niagara Universities, come to Nebraska to provide a series of trainings around emergency  disaster management and planning both on the individual level, and on the systems level, the  state level, the county level. And, so, we were kind of… I was… we were kind of thinking in that  vein. And, so, we were looking through the statutes around the emergency management here in  Nebraska, and we noticed that in statute 81- 8290.41 – sorry, I’m a legislation nerd. I can’t help  it. – we noticed that in that particular piece of statute it requires the Nebraska Emergency  Management Agency, otherwise known as NEMA, it requires NEMA to consult when they’re  developing these emergency operations plans, which are used as kind of a template for counties  and localities to plan out and organize mitigation recovery, a response to these disasters, of a  variety of different nature types of disasters. They have these plans at the county, local, and state  level. And, so, we noticed that when NEMA is helping develop these operations plans, these  emergency operations plans they’re required to for consult with governmental agencies and the  private sector. 

But we thought, well, you know, given that we know that emergencies and disasters like floods a  few years ago in Columbus, in Fremont, right? And tornadoes and fires and wildfires, like what  were happening in Western Nebraska or, you know, those natural disasters and emergencies of  all types will affect persons disabilities. And the optimal solutions and prevention and recovery  from those disasters and emergencies, the optimal solutions include the perspective of person’s  disability because disability presents a unique circumstance that needs to be addressed in the  response to and prevention of mitigation response recovery from disasters. 

And, so, we thought, well, if they’re required to speak with governmental agencies and the  private sector, although we don’t know who as it doesn’t specify who those entities would be, I  mean, our thought was well, does, you know, does HDR have a strong background in how to  respond to a person with a mobility impairment? 

I mean, maybe, maybe not. Right.

So, we thought, and again, that’s not a pejorative statement and that’s not casting aspersions on  anyone, whether that’s HDR, I’m just using him as an example, but it’s on any private sector or  NEMA for that matter. We just thought it might be really important to require them not only to  speak to those groups, but also to speak to disability advocacy organizations and or disability or organizations that provide services to persons with disabilities, because they can not only provide  that unique perspective, that Nebraska perspective and that lived experience but also we have  connections into the community. So, we can provide that communication to NEMA about how to  respond adequately and accurately to a variety of different types of disabilities because we’re  hearing from those individuals that have that lived experience and their advocacy organizations  that have resources at the national level and other states and other models. We have access to  that. We can help facilitate the input by person’s disabilities to NEMA and other emergency  managers across the state to help provide adequate response. Plus, we can also help facilitate  communication from NEMA to the general, to the disability community. So, we thought it would  be really important to have that kind of in writing. 

And again, we didn’t see this as being a, you know, poking NEMA or see it as, you know, being  critical. We wanted just really to raise the issue and to have a public discussion. 

So, I follow the advice that I give my advocates and fellow persons for disabilities that if you see  an issue, go talk to your state Senator. So, I went to my state Senator and I approached Senator  Day. And I said, you know, “here’s something we noticed in state statute. Here’s something that  we think, we know it needs to be rectified this way, you know, what do you think?” 

And, so, we were happy Senator Day agreed to introduce legislation and Legislative Bill 1104  was introduced. 

And, again, the major thrust of that bill was two things. The first was to get that consultation and  that communication networks and information awareness flowing from NEMA, to NEMA, from  the community, to the community. And it also it also added the word disability to the title of the  already existing registries of functional needs.

So what is that? 

The state already produces… these counties already have these registries of functional need,  which is basically a list of people in the particular area. Some, some have a county level, some  counties band together and do it like a regional level and kind of keep a list of people who have a  functional need, a communication issue, a mobility impairment. They have a need, a functional  need in the time of a disaster or emergency. And, so, they have these registers. But I, we thought,  if I’m a person with a disability, do I know that I’m a person with a functional need? Like is that  clear? And, so, we just thought in order to be really clear that the intent is to get people with  disabilities included in those lists, that they all, you know, they include persons who may not  identify as how to get functional need, but may say that they have a disability or a disabling  condition would encourage them to, you know, maybe sign up to the list and get on those  functional need registries. 

So that’s basically the gist of the bill.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And has this bill already gone out to the floor? Has it been  accepted, rejected? What’s the updated status on that? 

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: That’s an excellent  question. 

So, the bill was well received in the hearing. There was no opposition. In fact… in fact, it went  in front of the government, military and veterans affairs committee and the Senator Brewer, the  Chair of that committee floored us because he, in between testifiers, he talked about his  experiences post-Katrina in New Orleans and trying to get people with disabilities out of places  where the, you know, people were flooded and help trying to help folks with disabilities it, you  know, post-Katrina. And so, you know, I think he really understood what we were trying to get  at. In fact, he even said it would’ve really been helpful to have these connections and have that,  you know, that specific, accurate information on the ground in real time post-Katrina. 

So, it was well received. 

There was no opposition, the, the bill made it to general file. And was proposed as an  amendment to the business and labor committee priority bill. I think it was LB 512, I think was  the number. But, unfortunately, the machinations and the process in the last month and last few  weeks of the legislature, you know… you never… all bets are off. So, unfortunately, it did not  progress any further than a general file. 

And as a result, this session was the second session. So, the short session. So, bills that did not  get passed outright through, or were indefinitely postponed, or were killed outright at the end of  this session, but that’s… but I’m glad you’re asked, asked that original question because that’s  not the end of the story. 

I’m also very happy to report a couple of different things. 

One is there was talk, even initially when we were broaching the topic and the legislation,  initially there was talk about if it doesn’t go anywhere, maybe there’s, you know, there’s always  next year. And we kind of had those sort of ideas discussed with senators, the, you know, with  next session and we’ll see where that goes. 

But I think the other, while I think the legislative door on LB 1104 was closed, it opened a  window with the agency. So, we were contacted toward the end of session. If we would  participate with NEMA in a work group that they were establishing working with the UNL  Public Policy Center and a host of other emergency manager folks and departments agencies.  We’re gonna work in a work group together to work on NEMA’s new strategic plan. And, so,  they invited us or invited our agency, me, to participate in this four month long or so work group  session to help NEMA strategize and develop a new strategic plan. And then kind of, and to help them think about no, how do we, and then how do we operationalize the strategic plan? 

So, we were very happy to be invited and we were excited to participate and I think we are also  playing an important role because we can also work as a conduit between, you know, the agency and their staff, and emergency managers at local and county level and those agencies. We can  help be a conduit like to the disability community and from the disability community to NEMA  and this work group. 

In fact, we’ve, we’ve helped. We arranged several meetings with the work group survey folks to  get information and provide a survey to a couple of different disability organizations. So, we’ve  already been, you know, making those connections and telling people what’s going on and  getting their input and making them aware of what’s gonna happen and you know, kind of  providing, providing those bridges. 

And, so, we’re happy to do that. I always say to folks, you know, I go to a lot of meetings and I  know a lot of people: let’s use that. You don’t make a network to let it sit there. You use it, you  build a network to use it. So, we’re very happy to do that. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. And then just a clarification question for  listeners who might not understand what a general file is; can you explain that really quick?

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: Oh, yes, sure. Sorry.  Again, I…I got my legislative lobbyist nerd hat on and I kind of get in my zone, so I apologize.

General file is legislative jargon for the floor. General file is the first stage of full legislature  debate. If you’ve ever seen like on TV or on the news, or if you happen to watch the live  streaming of the session like I do, you’ll see the, you know, the centers are, are standing up and  they’re making speeches on the floor with the, with the pen, with the mics, and they’re all sitting  at their desks and that’s what that general file is. Well, at least that’s what it is. The first round of  full legislature.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then another clarifying question. So it was not passed  outright, this last session. Do you plan to propose it again or carry it to the next session as well?

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: No, that’s a good  question. I don’t think we’ve really decided what we’re gonna do concretely yet. 

That certainly is something we’re, you know, kind of thinking about and is always in reserve. So,  we’ll kind of get back together with our staff and see if there’s maybe there’s something we  wanna add to, or there’s something we missed in, you know, a later section of the statutes or  there may be another model that we’re looking at that we’ve learned about through our national  connection. So, I think we’re gonna kind of get back together, regroup and see if that’s a strategy  we wanna do. Or if we are sufficiently, you know, satisfied with the behind the scenes work.  Words are important to me. And, so, I always kind of like to have things, you know, in writing,  if it’s not in writing, you know. There’s always a chance it doesn’t get done. 

So, but again I have been very impressed with the expressed desire and recognition of the need to  include persons with disabilities and to address those different needs that that community has  with the folks that are in this work group and the discussions that I’ve listened to from folks at NEMA and these other emergency managers. I’ve been really impressed with their, their  willingness and desire to reach out to and make connections with this community. 

So, I’m excited about what the future’s going to hold. So, we’ll put a pin in the legislation,but  we’ll see where it goes. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you’re working with the department to outline these  accommodations. Do you have an idea of what that timeline is going to look like? 

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: I do believe they are  looking at sometime in September for the finalization and or dissemination of the new strategic  plan.

And then I’m not exactly sure what the level of detailed, you know… objectives and work plans  and how to, you know… how they’re going, you know… logistics to achieve those strategic plan  objectives. I don’t exactly know what the calendar is for that, but we’re excited to, you know,  make those connections. 

And, so, when they do have the plan, I think we’ll be in a good position to easily and seamlessly,  you know, be an avenue to disseminate and raise awareness about that plan. And I think that, and  I think those conversations and the awareness raising around the strategic plan’s development  and, and the new plan, I think will also feed into and help the department and the agency think  about and accommodate those needs. And it’s a variety of needs. It’s all individualized.

But I think the first step is realization and awareness, and I think we’re on the right path.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: For listeners, can you clarify who NEMA is? You  mentioned what it is they do in a general sense, but can you get a little more in depth with that  description, please? 

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: Sure. Sure. NEMA is  short for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. They are the state version of FEMA,  the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

And, so, they’re, in a nutshell and I’m sure they can explain it more detail or they even the  website, basically, they’re the ones that will help coordinate and, and, and distribute resources  and develop plans for responding to a whole variety of different types of emergencies and  disasters. 

That’s what I would say they do. And I’m sure that they would have more detail, but they do  have emergency operations plans they’re available on the, on the internet. You might have to go  search for ’em a little bit. But there’s more information about NEMA and FEMA and there’s…

And, actually, I was surprised. There’s a wealth of information around disability and disaster  planning and emergencies. And I was gonna say, if your listeners are looking for more information, we did a webinar year or so ago on emergency preparation and disability on an  individual level. 

And that can be obtained at www.nesilc.org. And you’ll wanna look for the media link at the top  of the screen and look for the disability education series. And if you look at all the videos, there’s  one that has a, I think the, the picture is like a person as a first responder in a really bright,  reflective yellow vest. That we did an hour and a half. That’s part of the disability education  series. It’s an hour and a half long webinar every month on a different disability topic. So that  month we did emergency planning. You know, why is it important to have a go bag and what do  you need to put in it? And the recognition that, for example, shelters need to be accessible.  Sometimes they’re not. But, again, disasters affects versus disabilities and a variety of different,  different types of disabilities. And, so, you knows the idea that we need to really think about  those or planning responses and setting things up. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, thank you so much for allowing me to sit down with  you today and learn more. I really appreciate it. 

Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Nebraska: You bet. I look  forward to it. Thank you. Have a great. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: You too. Bye. Bye. 

If you want to learn more you can read both reports on the Disability Rights Nebraska’s website  or you can find links to the reports in today’s transcript. In the meantime, keep an ear out for any  updates regarding changes coming up this next legislative session. 

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